Friday, December 14, 2007

Metadata Standards

I don't think of myself as a complete novice when it comes to metadata schemas. But I've never really taken the time to make a concerted effort to learn about them, either. I take them as they come. MaRC, EAD, Dublin Core--all of these I learned through practice, not a class.
However, I am taking a class right now! On metadata of all things! And while sometimes it's boring, many times it's....enlightening? Edifying? Anyway, it's pretty cool.
Something I've learned: even though I've always thought MaRC and EAD were the same thing, they actually aren't. MaRC is "discovery" metadata and EAD is "structural" metadata. Although they both facilitate use (which is why I thought they did the same thing), they come from different places. MaRC is for helping users search, and EAD is for...well, helping users search. But searching different aspects of the collection, not the subject of the collection itself.
I also learned about PREMIS (administrative metadata for preservation), and rights management metadata (also administrative). Having actual, bonified metadata standards is pretty cool.
When I was in grad school (lo these many 3 years ago), there really weren't any metadata "standards" per se. People were trying to pretend that there were standards, but no one was using them. Archivists weren't comfortable enough with digital anything, and librarians were still too invested in paper. My "digital archives" professor felt like she was banging her head against the wall when it came to getting archivists to start preserving digital materials. She would always, at every conference, stand up and tell archivists to start preserving their own born-digital records, in order to get experience in preserving other peoples' born-digital records, but I think that people thought she was just crazy. And she kind of was, but in a really great way.
Because now, not that far along in the future, people really ARE starting to preserve born-digital things, and to use the metadata standards that OCLC and ISO were creating back then. I used to feel kind of awash in fake-standards, but now, I feel very good about the tools that are out there, waiting to be used for creating records for born-digital items.
I even heard the term "digital archaeologist" yesterday. Yes, a person who used the preservation metadata to figure out what the digital object was, and try to bring it back to its former glory. This is particularly useful, these days, for things like 5-inch floppy disks and 8-bit files. At any rate, I love it. When are archaeology departments going to start offering digital classes? Get out your brushes!

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.